Why Do Potted Plants Stretch Out?

With all the problems that can arise when growing houseplants, elongation of shoots is considered the easiest to diagnose and treat. Elongation of the branches, elongation of the internodes, often accompanied by crumbling or loss of the characteristic leaf shape and color, is very easy to notice indeed. The silhouette of the plant changes evidently and already in the early stages of elongation it becomes obvious that the growing conditions for your pet are uncomfortable.

Why do potted plants stretch out?
Why are house plants elongating? © Sharon White

But in fact, this "behavior" does not always indicate lighting and exactly the wrong selection of conditions.

There are three factors which can cause elongation of twigs:

  1. Lack of light
  2. An excess of nitrogen.
  3. Lack of sulfur.

In this case it is easy to identify only the first problem, while the other two are much less obvious, appearing only in the lengthening of internodes and affecting little or no leaves themselves.

Stretching in insufficient light

Problem with elongation, unnatural loss of form, stretching of shoots due to lack of light, too much shade is related to etiolation. Insufficient light is always indicated by factors accompanying elongation:

  • shrinkage of leaves;
  • pallor of twigs;
  • pallor of colors;
  • loss of typical patterns or shades in decorative and deciduous cultures.

Fight against etiolation seemingly very simple: light level should be correspondingly increased. If you manage to spot the signs of pulling branches at an early stage, moving the plant closer to the window or to a brighter window sill can really help to quickly get it back to normal. But if the plant has suffered significantly, stretched out badly, and the leaves have had time to shred to the point of losing their decorativeness, then simply moving it to a brighter location will not do. The only thing that will help to restore a healthy look is extra light.

Artificial light or "light sanatorium" for plants is the fastest and easiest way to correct the consequences of etiolation. It's best to put the plant in a shaded aquarium or flower showcase, a box with a phytolamp installed and holes for air access, where the plant will get optimal conditions for recovery.

But you can do without the light box, simply by placing the phytolamp above the plant, hanging or placing it under chandeliers and lampshades. It's considered that optimum illumination at serious etiolation is provided by phytolamps working continuously from 10 to 12 hours per day and having 150-200 W.

This method of struggle against stretching because of the lack of light has its disadvantages: For cultures which are sensitive to the air humidity in the light box or its analogues it is necessary to take additional measures for compensation of overheat and overdrying of air under the artificial light.

Please note that sometimes the plant is elongated and the leaves become shallower as a temporary symptom of a lack of light - at too high a temperature during the dormancy period or in early spring, when the natural conditions of normal living rooms are simply not suitable for the plant. Such stretching is a symptom of an incorrect temperature regime, which does not correspond to the light the plant receives at this stage of its development.

If there is simply no possibility to create a proper cool environment, there is no need to fight the stretching: simply in spring, when the light day begins to grow, the culture will have to be formed or replaced by new plants obtained from cuttings.

Why do potted plants stretch out?
Long and thin shoots on room plants. © Liza

Stretching due to improper fertilization

Unnatural elongation of shoots is one of the first symptoms of excess nitrogen in the soil. The phenomena associated with this elongation can be directly opposite to those of a lack of light: the leaves darken, the colors and tones become atypically intense, the leaves grow larger and sloppier over time. Simply selecting the wrong substrate will not cause such disturbances in the development of any plant. To correct the situation, you need to adjust the composition of the fertilizer used. And there are several options:

  1. when the problem is not strongly pronounced, a simple replacement of ordinary fertilizers with mixtures that have nitrogen, but in smaller amounts in relation to other macronutrients will help;
  2. feeding only with phosphorus-potassium mixtures with complete nitrogen exclusion is an option for severe pulling;
  3. excluding nutrients from the maintenance program is the best option if there are any other irregularities in the plant's development that indicate an excess of other macro- and micronutrients as well.

Another type of lengthening associated with improper fertilizer selection is the lengthening of atypical plant parts accompanied by arborification - lengthening in acute sulfur deficiency. In this case, the shape and even color of the leaf practically does not change, there is only lengthening of internodes, but over time, atypical leaf cuttings are noticeable (the more the problem intensifies, the more the leaf blades themselves are covered by woody growth). It is possible to understand that the problem is related to sulfur, and by the unhealthy general appearance of the plant, which seems to be constrained by something, stopped in development, looks faded and oppressed.

Sulphur-containing fertilizers and water-soluble sulfates - and superphosphate, and sulfate of potassium, magnesium or ammonium, and ammophosks enriched with elemental sulfur, and thiosulphates can solve the problem of sulfur deficiency.

Why do potted plants stretch out?
Pulling shoots and crushed leaves on houseplants. © NRG

Natural causes

Many houseplants are prone to elongation by nature. Indoor woody and citrus plants, avocados, lush-flowered annuals, groundcovers, and ampelous crops can form long, "unnatural" stems without shaping. Such elongation can be controlled by simple pruning or formative pruning.

We should consider that elongation without other signs of problems can also be a natural recovery process in indoor plants that have been treated with phytohormones and growth regulators in flower centers and farms to maintain bush density. At home, their natural development is resumed as the effects of retardants gradually come to an end. You can also use growth regulators yourself if you wish, but it is better to resort to shaping the plant and let it develop naturally.

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